October 12th, 2013

I'm fairly certain I should worry about this

"Common sense, in other words, is not so much a worldview as a grab bag of logically inconsistent, often contradictory beliefs, each of which seems right at the time but carries no guarantee of being right at any other time."

At the time I am writing this, this sentence has 224 highlighters, so apparently other people think this is worth paying attention to, altho, of course, it's impossible to tell _why_ they thought it was worth paying attention to. Maybe if I googled the sentence, I'd discover they were all out there laughing raucously at it. Maybe they are nodding wisely in agreement. Maybe they are having Aha! moments, so _that's_ what common sense is or isn't, as the case may be.

It's from _Everything is Obvious* Once You Know the Answer_, and I've had mixed but mostly positive feelings about at least one other book by the author, Duncan J. Watts.

But I have to say, who thinks common sense is a worldview. Here's what a dictionary says about common sense:

"good sense and sound judgment in practical matters"

And just in case I really misunderstood what a worldview is:

"a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world"

Those don't sound the same to me. At all. Apples and lobsters, type of different.

The book to this point is all about how people do things differently at different times and in different places. Yes! This is true. And also about how if you go somewhere different, or you change as a person, you'll do things different. Also true! The author quotes a bunch of white male scientist types who went around and attempted to impose their expectations from their own time/place/group on another group and were Surprise! surprised to discover that other people did things differently.

I feel like I just want to say, you are _way_ more autistic than I am and go read _Confidence Game_. Because writing a book about apples and lobsters not having a lot in common seems way too complex for me, at least right now.

ETA: Good news, tho! I think I now understand why _Fair Division_ is unreadable. I feel _so much better now_. Also, on my list of people to go kick in the shins if I ever get a time machine: Stanley Milgram. I mean, obvs we all know the man was an unmitigated asshole. But _wow_ I am a little stunned he made fun of his grad students for having trouble with the subway experiment -- and then was surprised at how he felt when he did what he was sending them out to do. What, were they all 12 year olds raised by people with no morals? OTOH, perhaps Watts is mischaracterizing things. I don't know.

ETAYA: From here on I'm liveblogging until I give up.

Watts asserts "we use common sense to solve problems that are not grounded in the immediate here and now of everyday life -- problems that involve anticipating or managing the behavior of large numbers of people, in situations that are distant from us either in time or space."

What you me _we_, Watts? In those situations, I got get some relevant domain knowledge. He laundry lists times when we use common sense to understand stuff Elsewhere (Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, financial reform, healthcare policy, etc.). I don't use "common sense" for any of those things. _I go get some relevant domain knowledge_. I go ask people who I know to have relevant experience to recommend (or warn me off of) the various experts in the field and then I go read 3-6 books on the topic and _then_ I have something to work with. Altho I have to say, it would certainly explain a lot of really ridiculous ideas out there, if people are genuinely trying to map whatever they've picked up in the course of their life to, well, everything, without supplementing it with domain specific knowledge.

Alas, it continues to deteriorate: "Some may believe that people are poor because they lack certain necessary values of hard work and thrift, while others may think they are genetically inferior, and others still may attribute their lack of wealth to lack of opportunities, inferior systems of social support, or other environmental factors. [Dude _really did leave out luck_. For realz.] All these beliefs will lead to different proposed solutions [not true], not all of which can be right [not shown]. Yet policy makers empowered to enact sweeping plans are no less tempted to trust their intuition about the causes of poverty than ordinary citizens reading the newspaper."

Aggravating! Okay. Poverty almost certainly does not have a single cause in general or even in any specific case. If you want to reduce poverty (for suitable definitions of reduce and poverty), you had better recognize that, and your solutions should be crafted to create a trend in a getting-better-off direction rather than a getting-worse-off direction. You don't "solve" poverty. It's not algebra.

Also, I'm fairly certain that ordinary people reading the newspaper do not have taxpayer funded staff to collect domain knowledge for the policy maker to use in making good decisions that reflect his or her values and/or the expectations of his or her constituency. If you get a policy maker who is not using the staff, then probably that policy maker should not be re-elected, which may or may not happen, depending on how well that policy maker is enacting the values of the people he or she is representing.

Just saying.

Slamming development aid as not having a lot of evidence as to its effectiveness is easy and worth doing. Working to develop a useful feedback system for aid may help deal with people who only want to "help" people get "better" by doing things a certain way. Specifically, it would expose them for not _actually_ wanting people to get better so much as wanting to impose a particular value system and then blame the victims, er, recipients of their largesse for not actually benefitting.

Watts, however, then oversells his thesis (we fail in big projects as groups in unfamiliar areas because we apply our "common sense") to explain all fails, governmental, corporate, etc. "In all these cases, that is, a small number of people sitting in conference rooms are using their own commonsense intuition to predict, manage, or manipulate the behavior of thousands or millions of distant and diverse people whose motivations and circumstances are very different from their own." _Over Sold_ Failure can occur for other reasons, too -- or even instead.

"Bad things happen not because we forget to use our common sense, but rather because the incredible effectiveness of common sense in solving the problems of everyday life causes us to put more faith in it than it can bear."

Because that is _definitely_ the _only_ thing that _ever_ causes _bad shit to happen_.

Oh boy. Undergrad physics degree and he says this:

"The physical world is filled with examples like this that defy commonsense reasoning. Why does water spiral down the toilet in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemispheres?"

It doesn't.


Don't waste your time with this book. I want my money back.

Sh*t My Husband Says

So I asked my husband, "Are common sense and world view the same, for any definition of common sense or worldview?"

"Only if common sense equates to sheer stupidity."

All rightie then. It's nice to have some clarity. (He has _no_ idea the context in which I asked the question. That question was all the context he had to go on.)


In the past, I have really enjoyed Tamora Pierce's books. But I didn't much care for this one. And I wonder how much I would enjoy the others if I went back to them.

In this particular outing, Rosethorn (still suffering health effects from events in earlier books), Briar and his student Evvy hang out in the Himalayas, er, Gyongxe. Then they go to China, er, Yanjing. They visit the Emperor, and he is Mean. Actually, he's cat-petting Super Villain Evil.

Oh, by the way, I believe in spoilers. Go away now! Run in fear! Aaaaahhhhh!

There's a bit about killing all the gardeners in the middle of the night by burning them in the garden; one of the characters, wakes after dreaming parts of it and then realizes it's really happening, altho not to them personally. There are at least three crucial sequences in the book like this: truly horrific episodes of torture/murder occur while the characters dissociate, or dream part of it and then awake for more and worse, or whatever. The other two are when Evvy is being tortured to what the torturers believe to be her death (but she has dissociated), and when Briar goes to sleep and wakes up after three days to discover Weishu has conquered the city. Sort of.

These transitions -- especially Briar's three day blackout -- are confusing and jarring. On top of that, Rosethorn's Pope, er, First Dedicate Dokyi, insists she's the only person who can undertake a perilous journey to a secret mountain temple hideaway wtf to secrete the elemental Treasures of their faith. She does, but because she's had contact with such Heavy Duty Magic, she starts seeing all kinds of stuff -- as does Briar who touches her pack and gets tossed a ways by the power in it, and the Gyongxe God-King, presumably because he's part God. So throughout the book, these three characters can see paintings on walls move around and moon them and so forth. Also, super cheap having the paintings that they can see move but other people can't see move get "caught" by other people looking obviously different than before. "And then I woke up, but I could smell the scent of roses and wondered if it had all really been just a dream."

Between the blackouts/dissociative episodes, seeing stuff that no one else can see, magical powers (and not magical powers like anyone else, they are special, ambient magical powers) and the cartoonishly evil Weishu, this book is such a catalog of psychotic breaks, hallucination, delusions, etc., that the necessary suspension of belief necessary for me to engage with a fantasy novel became completely impossible for me to achieve.

Evvy has had a pretty amazingly awful life already, depicted in earlier books, and there's just something so over the top about the torture sequence, how she gets away from the pile of corpses she wakes up on, finding the dead cats, being welcomed into the magical mountain, and then the depiction of her friends mourning her death, followed up by her PTSD and her friends continued demands on her to save them. I mean, I _get_ that this is YA and all, but I feel like I am Too Old to be reading this stuff. I just can't take it any more.

By the end of the book, they are relieved at the prospect of returning to comparatively ordinary and well-administered Emelan. Upon their departure, they are informed that while they will continue to dream about the events that transpired in Gyongxe, they won't be able to consciously recall what happened to them there -- that's sort of a protective veil that happens to everyone who goes there. But again, kind of a cheap feeling to it all. "And then I woke up and everything was normal again, but I kept having nightmares."

Maybe this wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't just been reminded of the horrifying rapes in the Bolivian Mennonite colony that took so freaking long to figure out were happening and then prosecute (and which may not have even stopped). As it is, I just don't think this is the kind of thing I can have fun reading any more. *sigh*

Today's Activities Include: puttering, Costco, bicycling

T. was driving R. nuts today, so A. and R. went to Costco. While they were gone, T. and I went for a ride around the block, then we rode over to Harryhousen's (Julie's Place IRL) for lunch. After that, we went to the bank to deposit a check and replenish my supply of Folding Green Stuff. From there, we returned home, altho we later did a little more riding around the neighborhood.

After we finished our errands, T. and I did some puttering. We vacuumed the interstitial space, which was painted yesterday, and I put a picture back up on the wall, lowered the deck of the treadmill. T. and I got it plugged in and he used it briefly (very slowly).

What it looked like before we moved in, back in the spring of 2009:


After I took one of the bookcases out (I blogged about this):

Interstitial space post case, pre desk Interstitial space post case, pre desk

And now that it has been painted. The decluttering is dishonest. The weights are in one of the side closets but will almost certainly come back out, and the carpets haven't been put back down again, but will.

Interstitial space Interstitial space

We flipped the direction of the treadmill, so you can now watch the TV in the bedroom through the doorway. The pictures are lined up to compare correctly, it's just a little confusing.

The color is Benjamin Moore Aura Eggshell "Hawthorn Yellow", same as in T.'s room.

Not a review: _Confidence Game_

Finally got a winner here. Lots of fun. However, I am slightly confused. As near as I can tell from the description of MBIA's business model, they were selling insurance that no one needed (because the actual insurer was the taxpayer) and if you _did_ need it, they probably couldn't pay out on it (because of their degree of leverage. Seems like a waste of money to me, but I know all kinds of people buy the wrong kinds of insurance so no surprise they could find takers on this stuff. Oh, and implemented illegally, with phony accounting, if the stuff about LaCrosse, the SVPs, and the CFO being in the dark about at least the former are all to be believed.

Here's where I am confused. If Ackman was buying credit default swaps based on an expectation that MBIA would go under, and he even _suspected_ that some of those swaps were being sold by MBIA, why did he keep buying? His counterparty risk is insane, right?

Ackman does make mistakes (big ones: he sold out of JCP this summer -- I'm not saying the sale was a mistake, mind you -- and his time frames on many of his earlier successful bets were way off and that cost him a lot), so it's possible this was a mistake. But he also understands the technical issues of these kinds of trades, which I really do not. I believe there was collateral involved -- but what was it? Wouldn't you kind of want to know? Altho asking that question is sort of getting a bit ahead of things.

I expect the mystery will be revealed in time. Also, wow, further evidence of lack of Adult Supervision in important activities.

Current guess from Calculated Risk on when the shutdown will end


I, personally, had figured on something to happen by around midnight tonight, but news coverage suggests that nothing is happening, so, probably nothing is going to happen tonight. I suck at these kinds of guesses.

Nate Silver weighed in, despite being in silent mode until early 2014:


It's a long-ish piece, and it's Nate Silver so obviously you are going to read it, right? Well, if not, among other things, he said (dated 10/10):

"if the current round of negotiations is resolved within the next week or so, they might turn out to have a relatively minor impact by November 2014."

I'd like to be able to say, definitively, when would be an appropriate time to panic. I don't think yet.

There is some activity on the Senate side.


I feel like we're all going to be a little surprised by how this turns out.